Her Career Started with A Bang: Star Reporter Claire Hollingworth 1/15

Claire HollingsworthClare Hollingworth, a British journalist whose career as a war correspondent spanned more than four decades, died earlier this month in Hong Kong at age 105. She covered conflicts from Europe to the Mideast to Vietnam, but it was her reporting during her first week on the job that became the touchstone of her career and the reason for this blog’s interest in her.

The child of well-to-do parents, Hollingworth was drawn to writing at an early age. She eschewed the life of a housewife to pursue a career in journalism, scandalizing her mother. In the 1930’s, her freelance articles began appearing in the New Statesman, a British political and cultural magazine.

After Hitler annexed the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the 26-year-old Hollingworth went to Warsaw to work with Czechoslovak refugees. From March to July 1939, she helped thousands of people escape German occupation by securing visas for them to cross into Poland. Her experience in Eastern Europe led the editor of The Daily Telegraph in London to hire Hollingworth as a reporter in August 1939 to cover the growing tensions in Poland.

On the job less than a week, she somehow convinced the British Consul-General in Katowice, Poland, to loan her his car so she could drive over the border into Germany, thanks to the vehicle’s Consular plates. While touring German roads just over the border on August 28, she observed a massive German build-up of troops, tanks and armored cars. Back in Poland, she telephoned her bureau chief in Warsaw and told him what she had seen. The front page story in the Telegraph the next day scooped the world’s news media.

Three days later in Katowice, the rumble of airplanes woke Hollingworth at 5 a.m. She ran to her window and saw planes approaching and bursts of anti-aircraft fire. What appeared to be incendiary bombs began falling in a nearby park.

“It’s the beginning of war,” she shouted into the phone to her bureau chief at the other end of the line.

“Are you sure, old girl?” he asked her. In response, Hollingworth held the phone receiver out the window so he could hear the explosions.

On the way to the British Consul-General’s office in Katowice, she began having second thoughts. Had she witnessed a military exercise and not the start of war? If so, her promising career as a journalist would be short-lived.

At the Consulate she received news confirming the German invasion. The date was Friday, Sept. 1, 1939, and the Telegraph’s “cub” reporter had again scooped her colleagues with an eyewitness account of the start of World War 2.

 

 

“The Writing Life” – My 2016 Journey…

 

the writing life journeyThe end of the year typically is a time to reflect on the twelve months just passed.

For me, 2016 has been a very significant year, and not just because of the endless drama that accompanied the presidential election. It was a year that saw my historical novel, Without Warning, draw closer to publication, and I thought it might be interesting to share the ups and downs of this journey with you.

After three years of research, interviews and writing, I completed the first draft of my manuscript by the end of January, 2014, and considered it accomplished enough to begin querying agents. Agents are gatekeepers. No major publishing house will consider a manuscript unless it is represented by an agent.

What followed was two years of rejection notices from agents, manuscript revisions, attendance at writing workshops, more revisions, more rejections, and intermittent soul-searching about the viability of my skills.

As this year dawned, I had completed six drafts of Without Warning, but something wasn’t working. While I had written for most of my life, nearly all of my output was non-fiction. Perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

After attending a workshop on creating fictional characters, reading a book about narrative voice, and recharging my batteries at a local writers conference, I did a seventh draft. I clearly delineated the story’s protagonist, gave him a character arc, and added a new ending. Eager for more constructive feedback than the form-letter rejection notices from agents, I recruited five readers to critique this latest draft.

By early April, I received their feedback. They were kind, but their comments followed a pattern: not enough drama, most of the characters sounded like me, and the book took too long to get started.

Gut check time.

Was it worth all the work I was putting into this book to collect more rejection letters from agents and body blows to my ego? After a brief hiatus I returned to this question and realized my answer was, “yes.” The manuscript had improved from the first through the seventh draft. I still wanted to tell this story and believed that fiction would be the most compelling format for readers. Besides, the novel’s characters now seemed like old friends and I didn’t want to strand them in the middle of their voyage.

From late spring through early fall, I went through two more re-writes, differentiating characters’ insights, making their efforts to escape Europe ahead of the war more dramatic, heightening their fears as they faced their mortality after the torpedo strikes Athenia, and giving more detail and color to the book’s final chapter.

Beginning in October I polished my query letter to agents and sent out a dozen more. When these efforts failed to produce any interest, I decided to try the smaller publishers that accept queries directly from authors.

Within weeks I received an encouraging note. A publisher in Texas was interested in my book. They plan to get back to me in a few more weeks with a detailed evaluation of my manuscript and the work needed to bring the strongest possible book to market.

My long journey isn’t over, but at least the destination is in sight!

 

Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log: To “All Who Went Down to the Sea in Ships,” World War 2

Royal Australian Navy veteran Mackenzie J. Gregory created “Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log” more than 30 years ago on the Internet. He dedicated the site to all “Who went down to the sea in ships” in World War 2, and especially to the 84 officers and men who died on H.M.A.S. Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942. Over the years, Mac’s website has become an invaluable source of information, much of it first-hand, regarding naval exploits from the war. 

Mac joined the Royal Australian Naval College as a 13-year-old Cadet Midshipman in 1936.  He went to sea as a young naval officer in August 1939 as the clouds of war gathered over Europe.

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October 12 1939: Mac was just 17 years old on board H.M.A.S. ‘Australia.’

Three years later he was serving as Officer of the Watch aboard the cruiser Canberra in the Solomon Islands northwest of Australia when the Battle of Savo Island began August 8, 1942.  The ‘Canberra’ did not survive the battle.

After the war, Mac completed the first combined Torpedo Anti-Submarine (TAS) Specialist Long course in UK Naval Schools from 1947 – 1948.

Other assignments followed, including aide de camp to Australia’s Governor General in the capital of Canberra, and as Fleet TAS Officer on the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet aboard the carrier Vengeance. 

july23finalv4Several years after retiring from the navy, Mac started “Ahoy,” helping to preserve the memories of both service men and women and civilians caught in the whirlwind of war.

His long held dream to erect a bronze commemorative statue of a World War 2 sailor “Answering the Call” was unveiled by Royal Australian Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett in November 2015.

Although Mac passed away Aug. 27, 2014, before he could see his dream realized, his website had already become a fitting monument of his devotion to preserving history.

You’ll discover that Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log is filled with interesting articles, features, guest stories, and a forum. 

Lieut Cdr NICOLAS BRACEGIRDLE MBE RN (BATH, UK) writes: His erudite website has been a magnificent example to all naval historians and shipmates. RAN history is made all the more accessible by this wonderful gentleman and even in our sorrow, we hope that his family are strengthened by the many tributes from all over the globe.

Visit http://www.ahoy.tk-jk.net/index.html for more.

 

 

Early 1900’s Transatlantic Travel…What Was It Like?

 

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For most of the first half of the 20th Century, nearly everyone traveling between America and Europe made the trip by sea.

The journey on these vessels was as important as the destination.  First class passengers experienced glamor and style with meals, entertaining, sightseeing, and socializing.

However, passengers in steerage were housed in the hold of the ship…and the journey was truly miserable.  “Before the United States closed its borders in the 1920s, immigrants to America would sleep packed together like cattle, eating a common meal that was described as frequently almost inedible.”

The Mauritania was one of the best-known passenger ships of this era.   It held the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing for 20 years (ending in 1929).

Greater speeds were achieved by new ships built in the 1930’s.  Two German ships, the Bremen and the Europa challenged the Mauritania‘s dominance. The elegance and speed created fierce competition, and several of the largest companies (including White Star, owner of the ill-fated Titanic) actually operated at a loss for the first half of the decade.

During World War I the Mauritania worked as a transport and hospital ship. During its long career the ship made 269 round-trip crossings of the Atlantic, exclusive of war work. Its last crossing was made in 1934. She was sold for scrap in 1935.

A second ocean liner with the name Mauritania was launched in 1938 by the Cunard White Star Line. It made its maiden voyage the following year and, like its predecessor, was noted for its luxury and service. With the outbreak of World War II, the Mauretania became a transport ship but resumed its passenger service in 1947. In the late 1950s the ship’s popularity began to wane, and the Mauretania was scrapped in 1965.

 

Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill  enjoyed the lavish surroundings of the Cunard cruise liners.26d7e20b00000578-3000444-image-a-47_1426871954430

Photos courtesy Dailymail.co.uk

Would love you to share your experiences on these vessels.

 

Where was the British Royal Family throughout World War II?

he King, the Queen, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and former Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to greet the cheering crowds. Where was the British Royal Family throughout World War II?

And how did George VI unexpectedly become  King in 1936? 

When King George V died in January 1936, Edward, the eldest son, became King.

Edward created a scandal less than a year later when he gave up the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.   Thus, his younger brother, Albert, became George VI, monarch of the United Kingdom, a duty he never expected would fall to him.

The film “The King’s Speech” depicted George VI and his broadcast to the British people after Britain’s Declaration of War against Germany on September 3, 1939. George VI was in the third year of his reign as King.

The King and Queen remained at Buckingham Palace throughout the War.

Their daughters, Princesses Elizabeth (the present Queen of England) and Margaret, were sent to Windsor Castle, about 30 miles from London, for safety. They lived there until the end of the war in 1945…visited by their parents on weekends.

All valuables in Buckingham Palace were removed or protected. The horses and carriages from The Royal Mews also were moved to Windsor and the horses were put to work on the farm.

Like all other girls her age, in 1942 Princess Elizabeth (aged 16), registered at a labor exchange. She wanted to volunteer as a nurse in bombed-out areas of London, but the King thought it was too dangerous.

In 1945, (aged 18) she was permitted to join the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). She learned to drive and repair heavy vehicles.

King George and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (he had married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923) did not remain hidden in the Palace during the War.  They displayed real care and concern for the people of London by visiting many areas that suffered heavy bombing.  The King even went abroad to visit his troops in France and North Africa. The British people felt that their Royal Family shared their suffering and were united with the people.

Buckingham Palace actually suffered nine direct hits by German bombs during the “blitz.”

As the Nazis advanced through Europe, Britain offered refuge to European heads of state including King Haakon of Norway, King Peter of Yugoslavia and Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands.

The George Medal and George Cross were created by King George VI to honor “many acts of heroism performed both by male and female persons especially during the present war.”  The George Cross is one of the nation’s highest award for extreme bravery. (The Victoria Crosses the highest symbol of bravery in battle.)

The George Cross was awarded directly to 155 people, 84 posthumously.

On V.E. Day (May 8, 1945) the King, the Queen, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and Winston Churchill appeared together on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to greet the cheering crowds.  Police officers escorted the Princesses as they mingled in the crowds to celebrate the end of the War.

Here is an excerpt from The King’s Speech:

“It is to this high purpose that I now call my people at home, and my peoples across the seas, who will make our cause their own. I ask them to stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial.

The task will be hard.  There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God.  If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail.”

U-BOATS: Their Contributions to Germany’s Success

Launching of U-218 at Kiel, Germany, in 1941. From J.P. Mallmann Showell, U-Boats under the Swastika (1987)

Launching of U-218 at Kiel, Germany, in 1941.
From J.P. Mallmann Showell, U-Boats under the Swastika (1987)

Did you know that U-boat (in German: U-boot) is an abbreviation of  Unterseeboot, (“undersea boat”, a German submarine)?

The destruction of enemy ships by German U-boats was a huge part of  World Wars I and II.

Germany was the first country to employ submarines in war as substitutes for surface commerce raiders.

At the outset of World War I, German U-boats, though numbering only 38, achieved notable successes.

The Armistice terms of 1918 required Germany to surrender all its U-boats, and the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to possess them in the future.

But in 1935  Hitler’s Germany renounced the treaty and forcefully negotiated the right to build  U-boats.

So, Britain was ill-prepared in 1939 for a resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, and during the early months of World War II the U-boats, which at that time numbered only 57, again achieved great successes.

Throughout WW II, The German U-boats began to operate in groups (called wolf packs by the British). One U-boat would shadow a convoy and summon others by radio, and then the group would attack, usually on the surface at night.

However, by 1943 the Allies improved their ability to detect and attack submarines under water and developed tactics to force them to the surface where they could more easily be destroyed. Over the last two years of World War II, the U-boat’s effectiveness never approached the level of success enjoyed in the first four years of the war, primarily because of these technological and tactical developments.

In World War II Germany built 1,162 U-boats: 785 were destroyed and the remainder surrendered.

Of the 632 U-boats sunk at sea, Allied surface ships and shore-based aircraft accounted for the great majority.

 

Source:  https://www.britannica.com/technology/U-boat

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Jan Kucharczuk, the family’s oldest son, went missing when the rest of the family boarded their lifeboat. Photo credit: Family passport photo

Meet the Character Spirydon Kucharczuk, Part 3

In the last week of August, 1939, the seven members of the Kucharczuk (koo-HAR-chuck) family made their way from eastern Poland to Liverpool, part of a growing tide of immigrants seeking to escape Nazi Germany’s expansion and the threat of war it posed. (See blog post “Spirydon Kucharczuk, Part 2;” Feb. 1, 2016.)

There is no information about how the family traveled to England or how they spent their three days in Liverpool before boarding Athenia Saturday afternoon, Sept. 2, along with 539 other passengers. Accompanying the family’s patriarch, 41-year-old Spirydon, was his wife Ewdokia, age 40; son Jan, 20; daughter Neonela, 18; son Stefan, 15; daughter Aleksandra, 8, and son Jakeb, 2.

A little more than 24 hours later, at 7:39 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 3, all of Spirydon’s careful planning to move his family to Canada came crashing down when a German submarine torpedoed Athenia. With the signal to abandon ship, Jan somehow was separated from the rest of the family and did not appear at their lifeboat muster station.

Despite the protocol that required women and children to be taken off the ship first, the Kucharczuks managed to leave Athenia together, but without Jan. They apparently boarded Lifeboat 5A, launched on the starboard side of the ship and spent five or six hours in the boat before they were able to approach the large Norwegian cargo ship, Knute Nelson, the first rescue ship to arrive on the scene.

The Nelson had been on its way to Central America to pick up a cargo and was empty except for the ballast she carried to aid the ship’s stability. As a result she was riding high in the water, a factor that would have a tragic consequence during rescue operations.

When Lifeboat 5A approached the ship, likely sometime around 3 a.m., Sept. 4, three or four boats were lined up along the cargo ship’s hull, waiting for the chance to disembark their passengers at the base of a gangway deployed up the side Nelson’s hull. The ship’s sailors at first seemed reluctant for Boat 5A to fall into place behind the others, but eventually threw down a line to be tied off at the lifeboat’s bow. Boat 5A was the last in line and closest to Nelson’s stern. With rescue now at hand, everyone in the lifeboat relaxed.

Moments later the big ship unexpectedly started forward. The line to Boat 5A snapped and the boat was drawn into the vortex of the ship’s propellers churning inches below the water’s surface. The starboard propeller ripped through the bottom of the lifeboat, shattering its wooden hull and throwing its passengers into the ocean.

Spirydon fought his way to the surface of the water and called for his wife and children, his cries blending with the screams of others in the water. Almost immediately he found his oldest daughter, Neonela, who seemed injured and disoriented. They clung to a small piece of wreckage from the lifeboat. He called again and again to his wife and other children but there was no response. When other survivors tried to join Spirydon and Neonela, he feared their makeshift raft would be swamped and he made the painful decision to push free of the panicked swimmers.

After several minutes of supreme effort, they escaped the others, but Spirydon and Neonela had drifted a long way from the lights of the rescue operations and were alone in the wide, dark ocean with little prospect of being rescued. More about that in our next blog.

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American freighter City of Flint arrives in Bergan, Norway, Nov. 9, 1939, after being freed from German control. Photo credit: Sharkhunters.com

War History City of Flint Odyssey, Part 8

After nearly a month under German control, the American freighter City of Flint was set free following a pre-dawn raid Nov. 4, 1939, while the ship lay at anchor in the port of Haugesund, Norway. Norwegian navy sailors boarded and arrested the German prize crew for violating Norway’s neutrality laws. (See blog post City of Flint Odyssey, Part 7, Dec. 15, 2015.)

Flint’s captain, Joseph Gainard, and her crew were once again in charge of their own ship, and their first stop was Bergen, Norway, where Gainard was met by the U.S. consul and learned for the first time of the U.S. State Department’s non-stop effort over the previous three weeks to free the ship. Also waiting for City of Flint in Bergen was a small army of newspaper reporters and newsreel photographers, all wanting to interview Gainard.

I have no story to tell,” Gainard told the media, as he related in his memoirs. “I’m not a salesman. I’m a sailor.” He explained his first priority was to prepare reports for the U.S. State Department concerning the ship’s seizure and their experiences in Murmansk, Russia. The captain and crew also met with the American Minister to Norway, Mrs. Florence Jaffray Harriman. Only after the official reports were filed did Gainard finally meet with reporters.

In the month that City of Flint had been sailing to Norway, Russia, and back to Norway, U.S. neutrality laws were revised to prohibit American flag ships from entering war zones. With the original ports in Great Britain no longer a possible destination, Gainard needed to arrange to offload the ship’s cargo elsewhere.

They sailed the last week of November, returning to Haugesund, where it took three weeks to find buyers and discharge the cargo. City of Flint sailed back to Bergen for fuel, and headed out to sea again on Dec. 22, bound for the port of Narvik on Norway’s northern coast. There they loaded a cargo of iron ore, but foul weather kept them in port for more than two weeks.

Christmas morning I was shaving,” Gainard later wrote. “Looking at myself in the mirror I saw my face and said, ‘Well, here’s a Merry Christmas to you—from me, anyway.’”

Finally on Jan. 7, 1940, City of Flint left Narvik bound for the U.S. It took the freighter three weeks with its heavy cargo to cross the stormy North Atlantic and arrive in Baltimore, finally ending her strange odyssey.

Sadly, neither City of Flint nor her captain survived the war.

Gainard, who was an inactive U.S. Navy reserve officer, received the Navy Cross for his steady hand throughout the seizure of his ship. He returned to active duty in 1941 and commanded an armed merchant ship and later the attack transport USS Bolivar. He died of natural causes on Dec. 23, 1943, at age 54.

But Gainard had survived his old ship, City of Flint, by almost a year. The doughty little freighter sank in the Atlantic on Jan. 27, 1943, when her convoy was attacked by German U-boats.

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German Leutnant Hans Pushback (right) with members of his prize crew that took charge of the City of Flint on Oct. 9, 1939. Photo credit: Illustration from “Yankee Skipper: The Life Story of Joseph Gainard, Captain of The City of Flint”

War History City of Flint Odyssey, Part 6

City of Flint sailed into the Russian port of Murmansk a day after leaving Tromso, Norway. The American freighter remained under the direction of the German prize crew that had captured the ship and its crew Oct. 9, 1939; this in spite of the efforts of Flint’s captain, Joseph Gainard, to outwit the Germans during their brief stay in Norway. (See blog post City of Flint Odyssey, Part 5, Nov. 15, 2015.)

Although the Soviets had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in August, Russia remained a neutral country. So when the Russian port authorities and customs officers boarded the ship and immediately took the German prize crew ashore to be interned, Gainard’s hopes rose once again.

The Russian Naval Port Officer declared City of Flint was free and told Gainard he could sail as soon as the ship’s papers were returned from the port’s customs office. Gainard gave the customs people a message for the American ambassador in Moscow, the first of several he delivered in hopes of reaching the ambassador.

The next morning, without any word from the ambassador, he asked to go ashore to telephone the U.S. Embassy and was told he would have to wait until tomorrow. After three “tomorrows,” and with Flint’s radio still inoperable, Gainard sent a signal by flags to the harbor boat that monitored the activities of the port’s neutral ships, asking for a launch to take him ashore. The Soviets responded with a display of flags saying, in essence, they could not supply a boat and he was not to use his own boat to go ashore.

With no way to legally go ashore and without the ship’s papers necessary for City of Flint to sail, Gainard and his crew effectively became prisoners on their own ship.

Meanwhile, it [was] an ironic fact that the world at large knew much more about us than we ourselves knew,” he later recalled in his memoir. “On our short-wave set we received broadcasts from home and, though it seem[ed] hard to believe, it was a U.S. news program that informed us—in Murmansk harbor—that our German friendly enemies were coming on board again, and that again we were under two flags bound for Germany.”

Fifteen minutes after the news broadcast ended, the Soviet port authorities came aboard with the German prize crew, returned the ship to German authority and gave City of Flint 24 hours to leave. The Russians suddenly became most helpful, and after a flurry of activity the ship’s papers were returned, but so far as Gainard could determine, none of his messages to the American ambassador was delivered.

Five days after arriving in Murmansk, City of Flint left the Russian port and headed south for Germany and a likely confrontation with British and/or German naval forces.

The odyssey continues in our next blog.

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City of Flint Captain Joseph Gainard. Photo credit: Yankee Skipper: The Life Story of Joseph Gainard, Captain of The City of Flint.

War History City of Flint Odyssey, Part 2

The American freighter City of Flint was less than a day into its voyage from Scotland to New York Harbor on Sunday, Sept. 3, 1939, when a radio message relayed news that England and Germany were at war. The ship’s captain, Joseph Gainard, did not expect City of Flint to be a target of hostilities because America had declared its neutrality. But the state of war injected an element of uncertainty into an already stressful Atlantic crossing (see blog post City of Flint Odyssey, Part 1, Sept. 15, 2015).
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